National Recovery Month: Join the Voices for Recovery

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September is National Recovery Month. The goal of recovery month is to educate Americans that individuals with a substance use disorder and/or a mental illness can experience recovery and live healthy, successful lives.

This year’s recovery theme is “Join the Voices for Recovery: Strengthen Families and Community.”

Mental illness can affect anyone. It is estimated that 5 percent of Iowans ages 18 and older, or approximately 129,000 individuals, have a serious mental illness. But Iowans experiencing a serious mental illness can recover when they receive appropriate treatment, community services, and encouragement and support from their family, friends, and community.

Iowa has taken significant steps to develop and fund needed mental health services necessary for recovery.

The 2012 Mental Health and Disability Services (MHDS) Redesign legislation established 14 locally based regions responsible for developing access to a required array of mental health services and funding for services not covered by Medicaid for low income Iowans. MHDS Regions have exceeded these requirements and expanded access to additional services such as mental health crisis services, jail diversion, and evidence-based practices.

In addition, Iowa Medicaid funds a robust array of mental health services for individuals that are Medicaid eligible. Beginning in January 2014, the Iowa Health and Wellness Plan expanded comprehensive health care coverage for about 145,000 Iowans. The expansion was of particular assistance to low income Iowans with a mental illness.

Iowa has done much to develop access to needed mental health services, but there’s still work to be done. In a December 2016 MHDS Redesign Progress Report, the Department identified several areas needing improvement; chief among them is the need to expand access to effective services for individuals with the most severe and complex service needs.

In response, the Legislature directed the department and the MHDS Regions to form workgroups to develop implementation plans for more intensive, effective services for individuals with complex service needs. The department will issue its initial report on these efforts in December. MHDS Regions will be implementing their plans over the next year.

Iowa should be proud of what has been accomplished to support Iowans with a serious mental illness to experience recovery, and continue to push for even greater success. As the progress report says, “Improving the MHDS system has been (and continues to be) an ongoing journey.”

More can and will be done to support our fellow Iowans with mental illness, especially for individuals with the most complex service needs. We must continue our efforts until every Iowan with a mental illness has the services and supports needed to experience the recovery they should have.

• Rick Shults is administrator of Mental Health and Disability Services for the Iowa Department of Human Services

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